Bay Crossings Article

The San Francisco Bay Rainy-Season Pollution Protection Quiz

Deb Self
From the December 2012 edition of Bay Crossings

The rainy season brings a surge of pollution to San Francisco Bay. Test your knowledge about how you can help protect the Bay from one serious wintertime pollution problem—sewage spills.

1. Sewage is more likely to get spilled into San Francisco Bay during:
A. The holidays
B. Windy weather
C. Low tides

2. Washing which of the following down the drain can cause pollution in the Bay?
A. Soapy water
B. Fruit juice that’s gone bad
C. Fats, oil, grease, and oily food scraps

3. The Bay’s salt water:
A. Kills germs present in sewage
B. Does not kill germs present in sewage

4. In San Francisco Bay, sewage spills and overflows:
A. Cause skin rashes, sinus infections, and painful stomach disorders for swimmers, surfers, and boaters
B. Endanger shorebirds and wildlife
C. Contribute to excessive algae growth that chokes off oxygen needed by fish, seals, and other sea creatures
D. All of the above

5. The best way to dispose of used cooking fats is to:
A. Cool fat and pour it into a milk carton or other compostable container and place it in your compost bin or garbage
B. Wipe down greasy pots with a paper towel before washing them; put the paper towel in the compost bin or garbage
C. Take used fats and oils—such as oil from a turkey fryer—to a recycling location
D. All of the above


1. A. The holiday season comes with a surge of pollution from sewage. A major reason is the cooking and cleanup of rich holiday meals, with foods like roasts, turkey, and gravy.

2. C. When fats, oil, and grease get washed down the drain during cleanup of pots, pans, and fryers, they harden and clump together, especially in cold weather. Fats stick to the inside of sewer lines and build up, causing clogs and overflows. These can lead to sewage backing up in your home or apartment sewer line, sending untreated sewage into your home or yard. When small amounts of fat from your kitchen join small amounts from your neighbors, it can add up to a clogged street sewer line. Sewage can then back up in multiple driveways and yards. From there it can be washed into storm drains, where it flows directly into local creeks and the Bay.

3. B. Salt water does not disinfect sewage.

4. D. Sewage pollution causes health problems for wildlife and makes recreation unsafe on and in the Bay. It also causes excess algae growth, which, in extreme cases, kills fish.

5. D. To help protect San Francisco Bay, used fat can be placed in a milk carton or other compostable container or wiped from pans with a paper towel. The container or paper towel can then be placed in the compost bin or garbage. Large amounts of fat can be taken to a used cooking oil recycling facilities—see the list below.

We can all help protect the Bay from our kitchens, and the Bay Area’s sewer agencies also have a role to play. Every rainy season for years, outdated Bay Area sewage systems have spilled millions of gallons of raw and undertreated sewage into the Bay and its watershed. But I’m proud to say that Baykeeper has now reached our goal of compelling the region’s worst-polluting sewage systems to upgrade their crumbling pipes and infrastructure. Twenty Bay Area cities are now legally required to make year-by year sewer system repairs, and some have already reduced sewage spills by 50 to 75 percent. Baykeeper will keep monitoring these sewage systems to assure they continue to make required progress.

What a great holiday present for the Bay—when sewage spills cease to be a major pollution problem. That day is coming.


Deb Self is Executive Director of San Francisco Baykeeper, Baykeeper uses on-the-water patrols of San Francisco Bay, science, advocacy and the courts to stop Bay pollution. To report pollution, call Baykeeper’s hotline at 1-800-KEEP-BAY, e-mail, or click "Report Pollution" at